Who Rules the Peace When the Rulers Break the Rules?
Background & Talking Points for United for Peace & Justice
Phyllis Bennis - TNI Fellow
3 April 2003 TNI

The U.S. war is being waged without United Nations authority, and in violation of the UN Charter. It is a war of aggression. According to the Geneva Convention, as the occupying power the U.S. and UK are obligated to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi population, including food, medicine, water, shelter, etc. (Article 55 of the 4th Geneva Convention and Article 69 of the 1st Protocol). This obligation is unquestionable during the period of hostilities, as well as during any period of post-war U.S. occupation.

Because the war itself is illegal, any post-war U.S. occupation will be illegal too. That means the United States should not be allowed to claim any power to rule or determine economic, political or social arrangements in post-war Iraq. The U.S. and UK are still, however, obligated to pay the cost of providing for the humanitarian needs of the occupied Iraqi people during the war and its aftermath. Only the United Nations has the legitimate authority to provide governance and to help rebuild a new Iraqi government and civil society if the current Iraqi regime is overthrown.

The UN itself is pushing for a central role in emergency relief (particularly through the large international humanitarian agencies such as UNICEF and the World Food Program). In a difficult meeting with Kofi Annan, in the first days of the war, U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice essentially claimed the right to issue a dictat for the role of the UN in post-war Iraq. Annan indicated he did not believe the UN should be co-opted into providing the U.S. with ex post facto legitimation for its illegal war. According to Secretary of State Powell, however, two weeks into the war, "what we have to work out is … how the UN role will be used to provide some level of endorsement for our actions, the actions of the coalition in Iraq."

The U.S. is determined that its military will rule Iraq when the war has ended. There is disagreement within the administration as to the balance of power between the overall Pentagon-chosen viceroy, and the State Department nominees to head the various shadow ministries, each of which will be assigned several advisers from among the U.S.-anointed Iraqi exiles. State Department officials have indicated fear that Pentagon ideologues are trying to replace the State nominees with people like former CIA chief James Woolsey, a long-time campaigner for war against Iraq. But there is no recognition of the international obligations incumbent on what UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called the "belligerent powers occupying Iraq."

Testifying in Congress on March 26, Secretary of State Powell described the limits of what the potential United Nations role could be in decision-making regarding governance of post-war Iraq. A member of Congress asked him, "it seems to me it's one thing for there to be a future UN resolution about a role for the UN, particularly humanitarian. But it would be another thing for the UN resolution to lay out some road map for post-war Iraq in such a way that it [the UN] would basically grab that decision-making and control from the coalition.… Can you give us some assurance that whatever UN resolutions are in the future will not do that?" Powell replied "I don't even see a possibility of that right now. … We would not support …essentially handing everything over to the UN, for someone designated by the UN to suddenly become in charge of this whole operation." Later in his testimony Powell said that, "we didn't take on this huge burden with our coalition partners not to be able to have significant, dominating control over how it unfolds in the future."

On the parallel question of paying the costs of emergency assistance and reconstruction, Powell was equally explicit. In the same March 26th testimony, he said, "the UN has a role to play. If we want to get help from other nations, and we ask these nations to go get funds from their parliaments or their legislatures, it makes it a lot easier for them to get those funds and to contribute those funds to the reconstruction/redevelopment effort if it has an international standing, if I can put it that way, as opposed to 'just give us money to give to the Americans.' That will not work. And so there are a number of advantages to having a UN role in this effort." But the U.S. remains very clear that while it expected international financial support to cover its own humanitarian obligations, it has no intention of sharing actual authority, power, or decision-making with anyone. BBC World quoted a high-ranking Bush administration official who was asked whether France should have a role. Referring to France's alleged "anti-americanism," the official said "if they want to participate, they can pick up the garbage."

European governments, including key U.S. ally Tony Blair of Britain, strongly oppose the plans for U.S. military control of Iraq. Blair is leading a European-wide effort to push for greater UN involvement in and perhaps even control of the reconstruction process, apparently viewing it as a way of repairing his damaged relations with European opponents of the war, particularly in France and Germany. UN officials have indicated they see the British proposal as a useful starting point for determining the UN role in Iraq beyond purely humanitarian relief. But, according to a UN staff member, "Even on that, the Americans have more or less signaled to us, 'forget about it.'"

Two weeks into the war senior Bush administration officials, responding to the "overly optimistic" assumptions that governed their post-war planning (especially that military operations would be over within 30 days), acknowledged that "the American military will likely need to retain tight control over the country for longer than they anticipated." (New York Times, 2 April 2003) Plans for announcing the "Iraqi Interim Authority" have been shelved. Turning over any local power to Iraqis will be delayed until variously-defined conditions are met -- ranging from the complete pacification and defeat of military and paramilitary forces in Basra and other cities, to the seizure of Baghdad and destruction of the Iraqi regime. Secretary Powell did hint, however, that U.S. might ask the NATO military alliance to play a role.

On the question of organizing emergency humanitarian assistance, U.S. military planners anticipate aid organizations will flood into Iraq as soon as the military fighting is over, providing sufficient food, medicine, shelter, water purification, etc., for the Iraqi population and operating under U.S. military authority. The Pentagon wants humanitarian workers to wear identification badges issued by the U.S. Department of Defense. However, aid organizations themselves identify key problems: 1) if the fighting ends very soon, there is at the moment insufficient food, medicine and water inside Iraq to provide for the population's needs once the immediate family-stored stocks have been used up; 2) the U.S. is refusing to grant permission for aid organizations to enter Iraq now to assess needs and begin bringing in material -- essentially the U.S. has seized control of much of Iraq's border control and is determining who may enter; 3) the continued existence of U.S.-controlled economic sanctions means that aid organizations cannot get licenses to move significant amounts of goods into Iraq even to the limited degree they could safely do so; 4) aid organizations in general are not prepared to work under military control -- such an arrangement compromises their mandatory neutrality, and places at risk all their counterparts elsewhere in the world who then become identified with the U.S. military attack on Iraq.

The Pentagon created the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance to be run by former General Jay Garner, who is currently based in Kuwait and answers to General Tommy Franks, CentCom chief and head of the U.S. military attack. . Garner remains, despite his new Iraq post, the President of SY Technology, which provides technical support for missile systems currently in use in the Iraq war. The appointment of Garner reflects several layers of problems: 1) he represents the intersection of military brass and weapons manufacturers that is inherently suspect; 2) he has made provocative statements regarding the capability of weapons (including a widely disputed claim about the Patriot missile) and about Israel ("Israel has exercised remarkable restraint in the face of lethal violence orchestrated by the leadership of a Palestinian authority") and is certain to provoke extreme reactions in the Arab world; 3) he is known to have "frosty" and "strained" relations with the United Nations; 4) appointing any American to act as pro-consul in Iraq following an illegal war represents further defiance of the UN Charter and the authority of the United Nations.

The U.S. plans for the Agency for International Development (AID) staff to work under Pentagon control in coordinating aid efforts after the war, essentially relegating even Washington's own premier aid agency to becoming an arm of the military.

Philip E. Carroll, the former CEO of the giant Shell Oil Company is the likely appointee of the Bush administration to "oversee" post-war Iraqi oil production. He recently retired as chairman and CEO of Fluor Corporation, a construction company singled out as one of the five U.S. firms offered massive contracts by the Pentagon for rebuilding Iraq. According to the New York Times, Carroll is known for not micro-managing people, something the Times says would serve him well "IF the administration decides to let the Iraqis control their oil."